Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

500 Million Year Reset for the Immune System

Published: Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Last Updated: Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Bookmark and Share
A single factor can reset the immune system of mice to a state likely similar to what it was 500 million years ago, when the first vertebrates emerged.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics (MPI-IE) in Freiburg re-activated expression of an ancient gene, which is not normally expressed in the mammalian immune system, and found that the animals developed a fish-like thymus. To the researchers surprise, while the mammalian thymus is utilized exclusively for T cell maturation, the reset thymus produced not only T cells, but also served as a maturation site for B cells – a property normally seen only in the thymus of fish. Thus the model could provide an explanation of how the immune system had developed in the course of evolution. The study has been published in Cell Reports.

The adaptive immune response is unique to vertebrates. One of its core organs is the thymus, which exists in all vertebrate species. Epithelial cells in the thymus control the maturation of T-cells, which later fight degenerated or infected body cells. The gene FOXN1 is responsible for the development of such T-cells in the mammalian thymus. Scientists led by Thomas Boehm, director at the MPI-IE and head of the department for developmental immunology, activated the evolutionary ancestor of FOXN1, called FOXN4, in the thymic epithelial cells of mice. FOXN4 is present in all vertebrates, but appears to play only a role in the maturation of immune cells of jawed fish, such as cat sharks and zebra fish. 

“The simultanuous expression of FOXN4 and FOXN1 in the mouse led to a thymus that showed properties as in fish,” said first author Jeremy Swann. Together with earlier results this suggests that the development and function of thymic tissue was originally intitiated by FOXN4. Due to an evolutionary gene duplication, which led to FOXN1, transiently both genes, and finally only FOXN1 were active in the thymus. 

To the researchers surprise not only T-cells developed in the thymus of the mice, but also B-cells. Mature B-cells are responsible for antibody production. In mammals, they normally do not mature in the thymus, but in other organs, such as the bone marrow.

“Our studies suggest a plausible scenario for the transition of a bipotent lymphopoietic tissue to a lymphoid organ supporting primarily T cell development,” said Boehm. Since B- and T-cell progenitors can not yet be distinguished, it remains unclear whether the B-cell development is based on the migration of dedicated B-cell precursors to the thymus, or to maturation from a shared T/B progenitor in the thymus itself. Comparative studies often suggest that the origin of a particular evolutionary innovation must have occurred in an extinct species. „Here, the re-creation and functional analysis of presumed ancestral stages could provide essential insights into the course of such developments," explained Boehm the study approach.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Scientific News
New Tech Vastly Improves CRISPR/Cas9 Accuracy
A new CRISPR/Cas9 technology developed by scientists at UMass Medical School is precise enough to surgically edit DNA at nearly any genomic location, while avoiding potentially harmful off-target changes typically seen in standard CRISPR gene editing techniques.
New Class of RNA Tumor Suppressors Identified
Two short, “housekeeping” RNA molecules block cancer growth by binding to an important cancer-associated protein called KRAS. More than a quarter of all human cancers are missing these RNAs.
Biologists Induce Flatworms to Grow Heads and Brains of Other Species
Findings shed light on role of a new kind of epigenetic signaling in evolution, could yield clues for understanding birth defects and regeneration.
Turning up the Tap on Microbes Leads to Better Protein Patenting
Mining millions of proteins could become faster and easier with a new technique that may also transform the enzyme-catalyst industry, according to University of California, Davis, researchers.
Mathematical Model Forecasts the Path of Breast Cancer
Chances of survival depend on which organs breast cancer tumors colonize first.
Exploring the Causes of Cancer
Queen's research to understand the regulation of a cell surface protein involved in cancer.
Ancient Viral Molecules Essential for Human Development
Genetic material from ancient viral infections is critical to human development, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Tardigrade's Are DNA Master Thieves
Tardigrades, nearly microscopic animals that can survive the harshest of environments, including outer space, hold the record for the animal that has the most foreign DNA.
The Secret Behind the Power of Bacterial Sex
Migration between different communities of bacteria is the key to the type of gene transfer that can lead to the spread of traits such as antibiotic resistance, according to researchers at Oxford University.
Farming’s in Their DNA
Ancient genomes reveal natural selection in action.
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos